Millennials want firms to take a stand on social issues

By Gary Dinges – American-Statesman Staff

Dick’s Sporting Goods has several Austin-area stores.

Millennials expect corporations to take a strong stance on controversial social issues, according to a new study from an Austin-based marketing firm.

That’s a departure from past generations, who largely have preferred that the companies they do business with stay apolitical.

The EnviroMedia poll looked specifically at working millenials’ opinions of major sporting goods chains a month after Pittsburgh-based Dick’s Sporting Goods removed assault-style weapons from its stores, boosted the minimum age to buy any type of gun to 21 and urged lawmakers to strengthen gun-control laws.

The company’s moves came after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz was arrested and charged with shooting and killing 17 students and teachers Feb. 14 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.

Dick’s has several Central Texas locations, including at The Domain and in Cedar Park.

“Dick’s took a big risk, especially taking a stand just before reporting disappointing holiday sales,” EnviroMedia co-founder and CEO Valerie Salinas-Davis said. “But this poll certainly suggests they may be converting a few young consumers to their brand, as the overall retail market struggles.”

For its poll, EnviroMedia got responses from 400 Americans across the country ages 22 to 34.

Dick’s has a 19 percent share of the sporting goods market, but EnviroMedia said that 32 percent of working millennials claim the chain as their preferred sporting goods store.

EnviroMedia found that the closest competitor, Bass Pro Shops, has a 14 percent market share. It was the favorite sporting goods store for 10 percent of people polled.

The poll is the first in a series EnviroMedia plans to conduct, measuring the interrelations between various brands and trending social issues.

“We chose working millenials as our first target audience because they’re just starting their adult lives and thinking about buying cars, homes and consumer goods for their households and growing families,” said Suzie Lopez, media director for EnviroMedia. “We’ve also heard how millennials care so much about social issues, so we decided to see just how much they’re talking about them and if there are any connections to their favorite brands.

The survey results didn’t surprise Salinas-Davis, but she said it likely will surprise a number of retailers.

“It’s not news that brands need to stand for something,” she said. “But it’s becoming a new reality that consumers are turning more and more to Corporate America to help make positive social change that the political establishment cannot.

“The more civic action that takes hold among millennials this year, the more they will expect Corporate America to stand for something, and if it’s authentic and communicated appropriately, it could be very good business.”